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Issue of July 17, 2016

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How important is the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s claims over the West Philippine Sea for the Filipinos?

The July 12 decision means the Philippines has legally retained its exclusive economic rights over the 381,000 square kilometers of maritime space, including all the fisheries and mineral resources within the area.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been lecturing about the West Philippine Sea here and abroad, said the 381,000-square kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which has been gobbled up by China’s infamous nine-dashed line claim, is even larger than our country’s total land area of 300,000 square kilometers.

With the ruling, we have preserved our rights not only over a food source but also a gas resource that will be our major source of energy in the future – the Reed Bank.

China’s nine-dashed lines claim, according to Justice Carpio, has encroached on the Reed Bank, located just beside the Malampaya, the largest operating gas field that currently supplies 40 percent of Luzon’s power requirements. Since Malampaya will run out of gas in 10 years, Justice Carpio said the Reed Bank must be developed as soon as possible.

The ruling also upheld the Philippines’ rights over the Mischief Reef, one of the areas that China claimed in the South China Sea.

Still, the Mischief Reef is within the Philippines’s EEZ, but China developed it to become its airbase.

We also got the support of the tribunal in declaring that part of the Scarborough Shoal is a common traditional fishing ground of Filipino and Chinese fishermen.

The decision helped ensure that the future generations of Filipinos will have sources of food, energy, and other mineral resources.

But what’s next for us after the favorable decision?

China has been saying – and showing – that it will not abide by the ruling. It continues to bar our naval forces from moving towards the areas that are within our EEZ. We cannot develop the resources in the areas that are supposed to be exclusive to us because China won’t allow us.

Our fishermen are even harassed in that supposed common fishing ground off Scarborough Shoal. Clearly, China will not let us use the resources that are rightfully ours.

The best way still that we can deal with China’s notoriety is through diplomatic talks and alliance-building. What choice do we have? We are not as equipped as China when it comes to military and naval forces. We cannot afford to stage war against China.

The Chinese government may consider the ruling as a mere piece of paper, but it is the best weapon we have against China. We have the decision to back us up in asserting our rights over our EEZ. We have to keep negotiating with China and keep informing it that its claims have no basis.

As Justice Carpio said, preventing China from gobbling up the maritime space is a duty that the Filipinos owe themselves and the future generations.


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